The failure of Toys R Us in 2018 was assumed to be symptomatic of the dying high street and yet it’s rebirth may be far more indicative. With the opening of two mall based ‘experience centres,’ the Toys R Us rebirth points to a possible future – ‘Retail As A Service’
The smaller experiential format of these new stores is all about the customer experience – the opportunity for consumers to touch, feel and play with a product. If you’ve ever bought toys for loved ones you’ll know how important this is; you’ll be familiar with the anxieties that run through your mind – how big is it? how robust? how annoying the sounds? how edible the accessories? how quickly will the little darling tire of it?
Hence as consumers we would take special trips to out of town warehouses to see and feel the goods, but more often than not we bought online due to pricing, availability or delivery options – we were ‘Showrooming’, the poisoned chalice of high street retail.
A focus on customer experience is not novel – toy retailers such as Hamleys have been doing this from the outset – it’s the fact that brands are paying to have their toys stocked, regardless of whether they’ll be bought.
The experiential format does away with the notion of units sold, indicators of success are customer engagement and brand influence – using the store to drive brand recognition – making the retail environment a service or platform, rather than a sales channel.
As a digital marketer I will be interested to see how B8ta, the silicon valley start-up behind the Toys R Us rebirth, captures and measures this customer engagement. Whether it’s the frictionless, hands off approach of Amazon Go or a more traditional approach that also captures customer sentiment.
As a citizen, I will also be particularly interested so see whether it offers new hope to struggling retailers – especially department stores. Whether ‘Retail As A Service’ or ‘Showrooming’ can halt the decline of the high street, I hope it does.